What Musicians Can Expect From Aer Lingus
I won't detail the potential problems of awful accommodation, delayed flights, and unforeseen expenses — these are perils common to all travellers. Or even sub-standard PA equipment; unhelpful sound engineers; or paltry, unruly, and sometimes baffled audiences.
I'm just talking about flying with a guitar(†).
There was a time when a fellah could waltz up the gangplank with a padded gigbag and throw it on an empty seat, or in the 1st class closet, or even lay it sideways up the luggage compartment, while cheerful hostesses stood grinning at a possible celebrity minstrel in their midst.
But ever since the convenient excuse of 9/11, airlines have been forcing musicians to park their potential 'security risks' in the cargo hold — for an extra fee. In the case of Aer Lingus this is €30.
Or is it?
I was booking tickets on their website recently, return flights two musicians with a guitar each. Guitars are "larger than the permitted hand luggage size" and so cannot be taken on board.
I tried to add "Musical Instrument" as a piece of checked baggage but it turns out there is no option to do that (despite their strong recommendation that you book musical instruments in advance).
Option for "Golf Bag," yes. "Surfboard," yes. But "Guitar," no. So my cursor hovered over the "Golf Bag" button for a full minute before I eventually decided against choosing this option.
If I had chosen "Golf Bag" I'm reasonably sure the lady at the check-in desk would have told me "Sorry, you booked a golf bag and we can't allow substitutions, you'll have to book a guitar separately." And I'd have to pay twice. So, I thought I'd just wait until check-in anyway.
It turns out waiting until check-in to book a guitar as baggage costs an extra €10. Per guitar, per flight. So it's now €160 in total.
"You should have booked it as a Golf Bag," she told me sweetly. Sigh. I suppose I should have known; I guess my psychic powers failed me again.
Of course, this entire procedure became utterly irrelevant at Gate 16, as right in front of us strolled a college girl holding a guitar, which duly boarded the plane with her — for free. Oh, how we seethed!
Two days later on the return journey, the foreign check-in lady saw us approaching with guitars and said: "Would you like to take them on board?"
I was puzzled: "You mean just walk on board with the guitars? For free?"
"B-but we've already paid..?"
Upon our arrival in Dublin, the customer service desk got an earful of our complaints. Why did we have to pay €160 for a service that is apparently offered for free? My extreme scepticism notwithstanding, the nice lady calmed us down by offering a full refund for the baggage charges.
All's well that ends well? Not quite. It's several weeks later and still no sign of the refund appearing on my Visa. So I thought I'd give customer service a call.
Turns out they only have a fax number. You heard me, no phone, no email, no live chat; it's a FAX number. Well, that'll be handy for when 1993 rolls around again.
Through various machinations, I managed to get a telephone number manned by living humans, and after another thirty minutes of debate I was assured that yes indeed, as I had suspected, I WOULD NOT BE REFUNDED.
So there you have it, the Five-Star Aer Lingus Customer Care Program:
- Annoy people on the website.
- Overcharge for baggage repeatedly.
- Offer the same paid service free to ballsy customers.
- Lie and tell people they're getting a refund (to get them to go away).
- Remove any 21st Century method of following up.
- Deny everything over the phone.
My advice therefore, is to brazen it out as far as you can with your instrument. Stow it out of sight around the corner during check-in. Never ask any staff member if it's ok to bring it on board. Hide it under your coat as far as the aeroplane hatch. If worst comes to worst, claim a "gate check," and they'll put it where the wheelchairs and strollers go.
In conclusion, Aer Lingus can go suck a lemon.